Mar 31 2009

Jaago Re, My Idea and Lead India: The Impact of Socially Conscious Corporate Campaigns in the 2009 Indian General Elections

by at 3:08 pm

In my previous posts for the Global Voices special coverage on the 2009 Indian general elections, I have analyzed how Indian politicians and political parties are using internet and mobile tools for election campaigning and civil society groups in India are using digital tools to run voter registration and transparency campaigns.

As interesting as these initiatives are, the three most effective election campaigns in the 2009 Indian general elections are run by corporate brands: Jaago Re by Tata Tea, My Idea from Idea Cellular and Lead India/ Bleed India by The Times of India (Live Mint/ Thaindian/ Exchange4Media/ Hindustan Times).

In my earlier avatar as the custodian of a large brand in India, I was convinced that online campaigns in India could stand on their own, without support from ad spends in mainstream media. The tactics employed by these three successful campaigns have made me realize that online brand campaigns in India will continue to be driven by heavy spending in mainstream media.

Tata Tea Jaago Re

The Jaago Re campaign was launched by Tata Tea and Janaagraha in September 2008 (press release) to start a voter registration drive in colleges and corporates in 35 cities across the country and register four million voters. The voter registration itself is driven through an interactive application on its website and kiosks, which helps users identify their constituency, prepares a ready to print voter registration form in five minutes, guides them to the nearest voter registration center and updates them via SMS when their names are added to the voting list.

The campaign, which is run by a small team of youngsters in their twenties (The Week), has an advisory board that includes former Chief Election Commissioner T S Krishnamurthy, Infosys founder Narayan Murthy and Rang De Basanti director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra (Hindustan Times/ Indian Express/ TOI). The campaign has convinced several large colleges and companies to become 100 percent registered (TOI/ TOI/ Mid Day/ TOI/ Deccan Herald) and even convinced the election commission to allow bulk submission of registration forms.

Tata Tea has used a number of interesting ads to engage the Indian youth into the Jaago Re campaign.

Jaago Re main ad

Jaago Re Use Your Finger! Use it to Vote!

Tata Tea has also tied up with various TV channels to create micro campaigns like Bindass TV’s iChange campaign to support the Jagoo Re campaign —

Jaago Re Bindass TV Ungali Utha Vote Kar ad

Jaago Re Disney ‘If I Were a Prime Minister’ ad

Jaago Re Channel V VJ Juhi ‘Vote ya Vaat’ ad

Jaago Re also has an active social media presence with more than 15,000 members on Facebook and almost 13,000 members on Orkut.

The campaign is now conducting free Shut Up & Vote rock concerts by Bangalore-based band Thermal And A Quarter (TAAQ) across 10 cities to to engage Indian youth in the electoral process (DNA/ Indian Express/ IBN Live/ Indian Express/ DNA) —

Jaago Re has turned out to be an extremely successful campaign. Not only has it been a topic of a huge number of news stories and blog posts, and resulted in much goodwill for Tata Tea (Business Standard), it has also managed to register 531,395 voters so far, in spite of its run ins with a slow moving bureaucracy (TOI).

The Indian blogosphere is in love with the Jaago Re campaign. Rashmi Bansal believes that, with the campaign, Tata Tea has taken corporate social responsibility further than most brands do. Rajesh Kumar wonders why only beverage companies do election themed social advertising. Indian Homemaker and Chavvi Sachdev share their experiences with voter registration. Sanjukta has an interesting interview with Jaago Re campaign coordinator Jasmine Shah.

Idea Cellular My Idea

Idea Cellular‘s My Idea campaign is a continuation of its participatory democracy ad campaign where a lady politician, aided by her tech-savvy assistant Abhishek Bachchan, gathers the views of the citizens in her constituency using mobile phones —

The campaign, run by Pinstorm, asks people to submit an idea that can change India and vote on the ideas submitted by others. So far, within one month, more than 2,000 ideas have been submitted and more than 140,000 votes have been cast (Indian Television).

It’s the janus-faced Lead India/ Bleed India by The Times of India, however, which is likely to incite the most interesting discussions in the Indian blogosphere.

TOI Lead India

The Lead India campaign carries forward the theme of its 2007 campaign, in which it ran a nationwide ‘talent-hunt’ to search for the next generation of Indian leaders. In its new avatar, it wants to enable the Indian electorate to make the right voting decision in the upcoming elections, by providing a platform for meaningful political debate and supporting the No Criminals in Politics campaign.

TOI Bleed India

At the same time, TOI’s Bleed India campaign parodies Lead India and asks —

Lead India? Where to? Up the garden Path? Round the Bend? And by who? Our Leaders? Lol!

So while the Times Of India tries to find new leaders for a new age (good luck gentlemen!), we focus instead on those who Bleed India; Masters of the Scam, Tigers of the Tightrope: Surely they deserve some acknowledgement of their genius – in staying above the law, beyond the law, in making it and in breaking it..wah! wah! Ladies and gentlemen…you have led us and yes you have bled us.

It then creates an elaborate parody of the typical Indian politician, Pappu Raj, with his own Facebook profile and Facebook page (Exchange4Media).

Anondan tears apart the Lead India print ad while Rajiv Dingra wonders what is cooking with the Lead India/ Bleed India dichotomy. On Twitter, several users like Deepak and Kanika, find the Bleed India campaign “funny and creative”, while Sumant and Aadisht believe that Bleed India is “buzz gone wrong” and “badly done sarcasm”.

Opinion is divided on whether Jaago Re, My Idea and Lead India/ Bleed India are really socially conscious campaigns, or blatant attempts to generate buzz, but if engagement is the benchmark for success, these campaigns are the most effective ones running in the election season in India.

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

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Mar 28 2009

Digital Civil Society Campaigns in the 2009 Indian General Elections

by at 5:57 pm

In my first post for the Global Voices special coverage on the 2009 Indian general elections, I had analyzed how Indian politicians and political parties are using internet and mobile tools for election campaigning. In this post, I’ll detail how civil society groups in India are using digital tools to run voter registration and transparency campaigns in the run up to the elections.

The National Election Watch, a collaboration between 1200 NGOs led by Association for Democratic Reforms, seeks to increase transparency in Indian elections by combining information about constituencies and candidates with user comments and ratings on candidates. However, the website suffers from inadequate usage and the absence of rich data (Live Mint).

The Campaign for No Criminals in Politics aims to ensure that no political party gives tickets to candidates with criminal antecedents in the 2009 general elections.

Campaign for No Criminals in Politics

The data on its website is based on the affidavits submitted by the 2004 contestants. The campaign has an active Facebook group with almost 5000 members and has also launched two videos to promote its campaign —

Bharat Votes (Facebook/ Orkut) also aims to create awareness about voting using social media tools (IBN Live).

Vote India is another voter awareness website which has got some traction (AFP/ TOI/ Washington Post). It has an active presence on Twitter and Orkut (1/ 2/ 3) and has also used a video to promote itself —

Vote India’s page on section 49(O) has been widely cited in what I believe is a misguided discussion on “negative voting”. Basically, the idea is that voters should have the right to ask for a re-election by selecting a “none of the above” option, if none of the candidates are acceptable to them (DNA/ IBN Live/ Economic Times/ Live Mint/ Mid Day). A chain e-mail falsely claims that such a rule already exists. Many bloggers, like Deva Prasad and Vimoh, strongly support the idea and even call it a powerful agent of change. A Facebook group promoting the idea has more than 100 members and an online petition to recognize the negative vote also has more than 100 signatures.

Several city and state specific websites have come up to help voters register to vote and make smart choices about their candidates. SmartVote and Bangalore Voter ID in Bangalore, Mumbai Votes in Mumbai, and Future CM in Andhra Pradesh are some of the more prominent examples.

Mumbai Votes

Another category of websites aims to engage citizens into discussion and ideation on civic issues and then use the online community to initiate offline collective action at a later stage.

Lords of Odds, which runs an online sports prediction market in India, has started a Digg-like social voting micro-site called Manifesto to help citizens create their own manifesto for the elections.

Lords of Odds Manifesto

I think that a social voting website focused on the elections is a great idea. In fact, three months back, I was toying with the idea of starting one myself at IndiaTalks. I wish that NGOPost, which runs an active social voting community on social welfare issues, would start a separate section on the elections.

Praja aims to use online tools to build a community of engaged citizens who can be mobilized to participate in offline collective action. Youth for Equality aims to build a political movement to end caste-based reservations in India. The Wada Na Todo Abhiyan aims to hold the government accountable to its promise to end poverty, social exclusion and discrimination. Change India, started by Lead India winner Rajendra Misra aims to channelize the energies of citizens, by building online and offline participatory platforms, to solve India’s many problems (Rajendra Misra has recently joined BJP, so the initiative is hardly non-partisan anymore (DNA)). India Banao also aims to provide a platform for young people to participate in public affairs. For many of these websites, online participation is limited, and their effectiveness in organizing offline action is suspect.

Yet another category of websites aim to become the default source of news and analysis related the 2009 general elections.

IndiPepal

IndiPepal is perhaps the most ambitious of these with blogs from several well-known analysts, but India Voting (Indian Express/ IBN Live), Engage Voter, India Numbers and India Votes 2009 also have content rich websites. These websites, however, are directly competing with election microsites from mainstream media — TOI, TOI Your Voice, DNA, The Hindu, Yahoo!, Yahoo! Your Manifesto, MSN, Rediff, NDTV and IBN Live (via Sidin Vadukut at Live Mint).

The Indian blogosphere has reacted positively to these grassroots initiatives, even though they have got limited traction. For instance, the ‘Indian Homemaker’ believes that campaigns like ‘No Criminals’ are a sign that we can still make a difference. Rajiv Dingra at WATBlog and Preethi J at Medianama have done good roundups of these initiatives.

Finally, the three most effective “civil society” campaigns in the 2009 general elections are run by corporate brands: Lead India/ Bleed India by The Times of India, Jaago Re by Tata Tea and My Idea from Idea Cellular. I’ll cover these three campaigns in the next post in the series.

Cross-posted on my personal blog.

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Mar 22 2009

How Internet and Mobile Technologies are Transforming Election Campaigning in India

by at 10:44 pm

Politics in India is essentially local and India’s voters elect their representatives based on small local and regional issues, instead of the big national issues. As a result, election rallies and door-to-door canvassing, supplemented by local hoardings and print ads in the vernacular languages have traditionally been at the core of election campaigning in India.

In 2004, the incumbent BJP broke away from this pattern with its aggressive nation-wide ‘India Shining’ campaign. It recruited advertising and PR agencies to manage its campaign, focused on the urban first time voter, advertised heavily on print and television, and allocated 5% of its campaign budget to an e-campaign, for revamping its campaign website, pushing out text messages, pre-recorded voice clips and emails to its database of 20 million email users and 20 million phone users, and offering campaign-related mobile ringtones for download (BBC/ BBC/ Rediff/ Hindu). The ‘India Shining’ campaign didn’t work eventually, and Sonia Gandhi led Congress to a surprise victory, once again reaffirming the almost magical appeal of the Nehru-Gandhi family amongst India’s voters. Many observers even attributed BJP’s loss to its “elitist” ‘India Shining’ campaign (Live Mint).

In spite of its “failure”, BJP’s India Shining campaign has set the pattern for all Indian election campaigns since then: spend 40-50% on print, 20% on outdoors, 15% on TV, 5%-10% on internet and mobile and the rest on radio, film theaters and on-ground activities (Live Mint).

What, then, has changed since 2004? For one, the demographic profile of India’s electoral based has shifted. More than half of India’s 1150 million population is younger than 25, 42 million new voters have entered the electorate since 2004, and, as a result of the newly delimited constituencies, the importance of urban votes has increased in the electoral collage. Not only that, the internet and mobile penetration in India has increased dramatically since 2004, from 26 million to 365 million for mobile, and from 16 million to 80 million for the internet. Even more importantly, shaken by the 11/26 Mumbai terrorist attack, and inspired by Barack Obama’s success in the US elections, the young urban Indian is likely to step out to vote for the first time in India’s recent electoral history. As a result, both BJP and Congress are targeting young, urban voters like never before. BJP and Congress, however, have adopted different tactic to appeal to this audience. While Congress is banking on the youthful appeal of Rahul Gandhi, the 39 year of scion of the Gandhi family, BJP has embarked on an aggressive 360 degree campaign, inspired by the Obama campaign (Chicago Tribune/ AFP/ Indian Express/ TOI/ Reuters).

While BJP’s official website is nothing but a brochure, Lal Krishna Advani’s website has several interesting features. To begin with, LK Advani’s blog has been active since January 2009 and each of the ten odd posts have between 50 to 150 comments. Surprisingly, the Hindi version of LK Advani’s blog has very few comments. The forum on LK Advani’s website isn’t much to look at, but it’s doing well, with 6586 members, 2940 topics, and 9354 posts.

The Advani@Campus initiative seeks to build a grassroots volunteer campaign “to contact and mobilize young voters in thousands of college campuses across the country” (Telegraph/ DNA/ NDTV/ Indian Express). The focus on recruiting volunteers is reflected in a well-structured volunteer program. The tasks range from recruiting first time voters, promoting LK Advani’s website and social media profiles, translating sections of the website, designing banner ads, and helping out with other campaign work. According to one report, BJP has recruited more than 7000 volunteers through the website (Business Standard).

Bloggers for Advani

Especially interesting is the Bloggers for Advani initiative run by Mallika Noorani. The initiative is coordinated through a Google Group (started based on a suggestion by yours truly), and encourages bloggers to display a Bloggers for Advani button and promote BJP’s ideas on their blogs.

Advani youtube channel

It seems that most of the social media initiatives on the Advani campaign are run by volunteers and encouraged by the campaign coordinators. In any case, it’s difficult to identify which profiles or groups are official and which are unofficial. The official website links to a LK Advani Facebook page (with 390 supporters) and an Advani for PM Orkut group (with 960 members), but there are several other unofficial groups with similar memberships. The (official?) BJP Supporters Group on Orkut has 22,157 members. Similarly, there’s confusion about whether the @BJP_ Twitter profile, which has 416 followers is indeed official.

bjp_twitter_profile

A group which seems to work closely with the campaign team is the Friends of BJP group (Facebook/ Orkut), which includes several prominent professionals including Rajesh Jain and R K Mishra. Another unofficial website which is getting some traction is Join BJP.

Apart from these national level initiatives, several BJP leaders, including Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and V K Malhotra also have well-designed websites. Narendra Modi and V K Malhotra also have Twitter profiles.

The BJP is also running an aggressive online ad campaign, primarily with Google, with search ads across as many as 200,000 keywords, placement ads across 50,000 websites, and banner ads across 2,000 websites. With a billion searches every month, BJP’s campaign is expected to recah 75% of India’s internet users (Live Mint/ Economics Times).

BJP is also planning to send one billion SMSes to about 250 million cellphone users, who are not enrolled in the Do-Not-Call registry. Overall, telecom operators expect to make an additional revenue of $10 million from an extra traffic of 3-4 billion SMSes sent by all the political parties, apart from money from from multimedia messages, songs and wallpapers (Economic Times/ Indian Express/ Financial Express).

Last week, the BJP also released a detailed 30-page IT Vision document (PDF) with much fanfare. The document is partly a road map to reform and partly a pre-election populist pipe dream. It promises to give the highest priority to developing IT infrastructure and leveraging it for better governance and inclusive development. Specifically, it promises to match China on all IT-related parameters within 5 years. While many observers have dismissed the document as pre-election populism, others have pointed out that it is a testament to BJP’s forward looking thinking that it believes that it can win an election by promising to transform India into an IT super-power.

vote_for_congress

The Indian National Congress, on the other hand, seems to be stuck in the web 1.0 era. Both the official Congress website and the Congress Media websites are online brochures. The Vote for Congress portal, which was supposed to revolutionize its online campaign by providing the Congress candidates a platform to blog (Hindu/ TOI), is still not up. None of the senior Congress leaders — Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, and Manmohan Singh — have a website and, what’s worse, their URLs are owned by cyber-squatters (Indian Express). The party does want to set up 600 internet kiosks across the country (Hindu) but without engaging interactive content, their effectiveness might be limited.

Shashi Tharoor — author and former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations — is perhaps the only Congress candidate to seriously leverage the web in his campaign, with presence on Facebook and Orkut (CIOL/ Sify). Former Karnataka chief minister SM Krishna has a Twitter profile. Some of the younger Congress candidates like Priya Dutt, Milind Deora (Facebook) and Sachin Pilot also have well-designed websites, but aren’t really active on social media.

vote_for_cpim

Several other regional parties have either set up, or revamped, their websites, in the run up to the general elections. The CPI-M (Live Mint/ Hindu/ Economic Times/ Indian Express) and Samajvadi Party websites seem to be the most well-designed. However, none of these websites are using social media tools, beyond asking for donations and newsletter subscriptions.

Many observers have pointed out that the digital campaigns by BJP and other Indian political parties are amateurish in comparison to Barack Obama’s social media campaign (CIOL/ Networked World) and they are right. BJP’s digital campaign can hardly be compared to Obama’a campaign, in terms of ambition, execution or results. The campaign is hardly going to change the course of the election; the election will still be decided in India’s small towns and villages. But, even if it “fails”, the campaign will set a precedent for all future elections in India, just like the ‘India Shining’ campaign did, five years ago.

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

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Feb 28 2009

Shiv Sena’s Orkut Campaign: The Limits to Freedom of Expression in an Intolerant India

by at 3:30 am

Introduction: Freedom of Expression in the Indian Blogosphere

The Indian blogosphere is abuzz with discussions on freedom of expression after the Supreme Court refused to throw out Shiv Sena’s defamation case against 19 year old computer science student Ajith D (TOI).

However, the Indian blogosphere’s reactions to the controversy are mostly based on reports on the incident in Indian media. The quality of this reporting, however, has been very mediocre, with few details and little background information. As a result, bloggers are reacting to incomplete information.

So, before I do a roundup of the Indian blogosphere’s reactions to the story and share my own views, let me first present the basic facts.

Shiv Sena’s Tradition of Violent Protests

Let’s start with Shiv Sena itself. Shiv Sena is a far right political party in Maharashtra that built a strong base amongst the Marathi community in the sixties based on its militant ideology that Maharashtra belonged to the Marathi community and migrants from other Indian states should be thrown out. Starting from the mid-seventies, the Shiv Sena shifted its focus to a strong pro-Hindutva (and anti-Muslim) ideology, a shift that solidified in the mid nineties, when it became an integral part of right wing alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The Shiv Sena has often been accused of being involved in coordinated political violence against against non-Marathis and non-Hindus. It is widely acknowledged that Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackery, who is revered amongst its supporters, has been instrumental in inciting such violence on many occasions. The Shiv Sena also has a long and well-documented history of violent protests against journalists, writers and artists who speak against its extremist ideologies (see BBC 1, BBC 2, BBC 3, BBC 4, NYT 1, NYT 2, NYT 3, NYT 4, Guardian 1, Guardian 2).

It’s important that we look at Shiv Sena’s ire against Orkut in the context of its long history of ideological intolerance and violent protests.

Shiv Sena’s Unholy Nexus With Orkut

The story started in November 2006, when Shiv Sena activists stumbled across an anti-Shivaji community on Orkut. Shivaji is a 16th century Maratha warrior, who is revered by the Marathi community. Pune police asked cyber cafe owners to block the anti-Shivaji community after violence by Shiv Sena. A public interest litigation was also filed in Bombay High Court to ban Orkut for hosting the anti-Shivaji community (TOI 1, TOI 2, Rediff 1, Rediff 2, NDTV, Financial Express).

In January 2007, the Maharashtra government requested the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), a Delhi-based regulatory body under the Ministry of Information and Technology, to remove the offensive content. According to the Information Technology Act of 2000 and the gazette notification issued in February 2003, the CERT is responsible for investigating requests to block websites from notified officers of the Union government or the state governments. If it finds the website objectionable, it communicate its decision to the licensing and regulations cell of the department of telecommunications for passing the order to the internet service providers to block the website (Indian Express, Live Mint).

The Shiv Sena also asked its supporters to flag these communities on Orkut, so that they could be banned (Orkut discussion thread 1, Orkut discussion thread 2). This resulted in a flagging war on Orkut, where users who were part of pro-Sena and anti-Sena communities flagged each other’s communities. For a short while, many pro-Sena and anti-Sena communities were banned by Google, but many of them were quickly reinstated (Orkut discussion thread).

The Shiv Sena also sent letters to Google and internet service providers in India to block these communities and even met up with Google officials, along with Maharashtra government and Mumbai police officials.

In January 2007, Google decided to cooperate with the Mumbai police and instituted an informal arrangement called the Priority Reporting Tool which enabled Mumbai police to directly report objectionable content to Google and also ask it for details of IP addresses and service providers. Based on the recommendation of Mumbai Police, Google deleted communities against Shivaji, Bal Thackeray and dalit leader B R Ambedkar (TOI, IHT, Indian Express).

Google usually uses IP blocking to block controversial content only in countries in which it violates local laws and refuses to share the IP addresses of its users (NYT). Under Indian law, if IP addresses of the offenders need to be obtained, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) needs to be involved. So, it’s strange that Google decided to help Mumbai police short-circuit the Indian legal system. Google, by the way, hasn’t really explained why it made an exception in Orkut’s case, when the Indian cyber law already had a process for handling such a situation.

However, even as Google banned some communities that contained defamatory content, it initially refused to ban several other communities that were against Shiv Sena’s leaders or ideologies. As a result, Abhijit Phanse, the president of Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena, the student wing of Shiv Sena, took matters in his own hands and led a violent campaign against Orkut.

In May 2007, the Sena sent letters to internet cafes threatening attacks against their establishments, if they didn’t stop their customers from accessing these Orkut communities. In June 2006, it followed up on its threats by ransacking several internet cafes in Mumbai and physically abusing cafe owners and customers. As a result, cyber cafes in Mumbai registered a drop in traffic and were forced to put up notices asking their customers not to visit Orkut.

The Shiv Sena also pressured Mumbai police, which has often been criticized for being partial to the Sena, to support its cause. The police instructed internet cafe owners in Mumbai and Thane to prohibit their customers from accessing Orkut, asked Google to block the controversial communities on Orkut, and even requested CERT-In, to ban Orkut. The Sena also sent a letter to President A P J Abdul Kalam, requesting him to ban Orkut.

The Sena even announced that it was developing a special software that internet service providers could install to block any message containing certain words and phrases such as “I hate” or “I despise”.

These incidents were widely documented in Indian media (see Reuters 1, Rediff 1, Rediff 2, IBN Live, NDTV, Indian Express 1, Indian Express 2, Indian Express 3, Indian Express 4, Indian Express 5, Economic Times, Business Standard 1, Business Standard 2, TOI) and debated in the Indian blogosphere and Orkut community (The Hindu). It’s especially worthwhile to see two opinion pieces by Amit Varma in LiveMint and Sevathi Ninan in The Hindu criticizing these trends.

The news stories don’t give details about CERT’s decision on banning Orkut, or the final settlement between Shiv Sena and Orkut, but several anti-Shiv Sena communities have been banned since then.

The Mumbai and Pune police have also put their arrangement with Google to good use since then.

In September/ October 2007, the Pune police arrested four Bangalore based software engineers — 25 year old Lakshmana Kailash, 23 year old Manjunath Betegowda, 23 year old Harish Shetty and 22 year old Kiran Reddy — for posting an obscene profile of Shivaji on Orkut, in which he was shown clad in female innerwear (Economic Times, TOI). It was later found that the arrest of Lakshmana Kailash, who was detained for 50 days, was based on wrong IP addresses provided by Bharti Airtel (TOI 1, TOI 2, TOI 3, The Hindu, Rediff). Lakshmana then sued Airtel, Maharashtra government and Mumbai police and demanded Rs 20 crore in damages (IBN Live, TOI). The status of his case isn’t clear from the news reports.

In August 2008, the Mumbai Police arrested Ghaziabad based computer engineer Adarsh Sinha for posting death threats against Bal Thackeray using a fake email identity in the name of Faizab Farooqi. They also arrested Mumbai resident Suresh Shetty, a moderator of this community. (TOI)

Shiv Sena isn’t Alone on Orkut

Incidentally, there are similar communities on Orkut against other political parties and political leaders, including “We Hate Congress”, “I Hate Indira Gandhi,” “I Hate Rajshekhar Reddy”, “We hate Pratibha Patil” and “I Hate Deve Gowda” (Business Standard, Rediff, TOI, Mid Day, Salon).

In October 2006, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court directed the Maharashtra government to issue a notice to Google for hosting a community called ‘We Hate India’ on Orkut, forcing Google to delete the community (TOI, Business Standard, Economics Times).

In March 2007, Google deleted a community that had defamatory content against West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, after Kolkata police asked Mumbai police to help it ban it (Economic Times, The Telegraph).

In May 2008, the Pune police arrested 22 year old Gurgaon based IT professional Rahul Vaid for posting derogatory content about Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi on an Orkut community named “I Hate Sonia Gandhi”. In June 2008, they also arrested 22 year old Hyderabad resident Nithin Sajja for a similar offense. Interestingly, the person who formed this community wasn’t considered guilty as per the law. The police said that “hating Sonia Gandhi is a personal opinion of the person who formed the community and having a personal opinion about someone is not an offense as per the law” (TOI 1), (TOI 2).

The Pune police is also looking for three Uttar Pradesh residents — Rohit Wadhwani, Amit Arya and Ankit Sharma — for posting abusive messages involving Mahatma Gandhi on Orkut (Indian Express).

It’s interesting to note that Mumbai and Pune police is involved in almost all the cases related to defamation of political figures in Orkut communities, even though Google has similar arrangements with police in five Indian cities (Telegraph). One news report says that Pune police itself has arrested 16 people in such incidents (Indian Express). It seems as if there is a war of oneupmanship amongst Shiv Sena and Congress members in Maharashtra to win brownie points with their leaders by pressuring Mumbai and Pune police to pursue these cases.

By the way, the Indian government has also considered banning user generated videos on mobile (MMS) and the web (Economic Times) and the Mumbai police has installed keystroke logging software in cyber cafes to tackle piracy and cyber crime.

Shiv Sena’s Case Against Ajith D

Ajith D, a 19 year computer science student from Kerala, started a community called ‘I Hate Shiv Sena’ on Orkut. One of the anonymous commentators on the website posted a death threat to Bal Thackeray. It seems from news reports the Mumbai police has charged Ajith for both criminal intimidation and hurting religious sentiments.

Mumbai police tracked Ajith’s Orkut and GMail accounts for a week to ascertain his address and sent a team to his hometown in Cherthala, in August 2008, to nab him. However, television channels flashed news of their arrival, helping Ajith to escape and the police team could only confiscate the hard disk of his computer. The team also said that they were observing the Orkut postings and Internet activities of around 50 other members of the community (Hindu).

Subsequently, Ajith got anticipatory bail from Kerala High Court and moved the Supreme Court through counsel Jogy Scaria seeking quashing of the criminal complaint based on the ground that he hadn’t posted the death threat and the community itself wasn’t defamatory. The Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justice P Sathasivam, however, refused to protect him and said: “if someone files a criminal action on the basis of the content, then you will have to face the case. You have to go before the court and explain your conduct.” (TOI) The media has also quoted very vague remarks from the judgment that can be interpreted very loosely: “You are a computer student and you know how many people access internet portals” (TOI); “Anything that is posted on the internet goes to the public” (The Guardian); “If a case is filed in a foreign country go and face it” (The Hindu).

Roundup of Blog Discussions on the Ajith D Case

As I mentioned above, several bloggers have reacted strongly to the Supreme Court judgment, often based on partial information (CXOToday).

Lawyer Lawrence Liang at Kafila writes a detailed post on whether a defamation case should be settled under civil law or criminal law and delineates a history of defamation cases against Indian bloggers. He also makes a pertinent point in the Ajith D case —

When organizations like the Shiv Sena and the Sri Ram Sene start using defamation laws, it smacks of chutzpah to me. The definition of Chutzpah is a person who kills his parents, and then claims clemency on the grounds that he is an orphan. What other way can we describe the bizarre situation of the violence prone macho men, who suddenly run around screaming about the violation of their legal rights and the slurring of their reputation?

Patrix thinks that the Indian legal system is biased against freedom of speech —

As you see, anything under the sun can be categorized as an restriction to your freedom of speech. If I say something innocuous and that leads to couple of weirdos smashing shop windows in the town, all it does to get me into trouble is the weirdos saying that my words made them do it. My freedom of speech will be curtailed under “public order” or “incitement to an offense” restrictions. Shouldn’t actions be punished instead of words?

Marshall Kirkpatrick at RWW thinks that the Supreme Court judgement has repercussions for bloggers in all democratic societies —

It’s a good idea for us as individual web users to remember that even as new internet technology sets so much information and so many voices free, even in a celebrated democracy – online freedom may be one repressive legal ruling away from being put at serious risk. No matter where you might live – do you trust that your local judiciary would understand the issues in a case like this? We don’t.

Nikhil Moro from Civic & Citizen Journalism Interest Group thinks that freedom of expression lost a case in India —

Historically India’s courts have accorded a high place for expression in the hierarchy of freedoms, but as Mr. Ajit’s unfortunate affair shows, social media activists should expect the state to use a myriad of laws other than libel.

Sanjukta thinks that the Supreme Court decision is good for Indian blogging —

This would help clean up a lot of #@%$ that goes around the blogsphere, will help us become more responsible and mature writers thereby establishing credibility for bloggers’ opinion and most importantly it would kill the terrible habit of writing all kinds of indecent, uncivilized, abusive things anonymously in the comments thread. This would also compel the blog owner or community discussion board owner to keep the discussion clean and abuse free. It will enforce the dicipline of self regulation on bloggers, isn’t that a great thing to achieve.

2s at Mutiny warns against a simplistic discussion on freedom of expression —

The laws of the land must find better ways to control what is being written or said in a public forum than restricting and threatening bloggers with action. Bloggers in India must together call for what I think is a more mature approach and law towards dealing with public defamatory comments on the internet. Bloggers are, after all, not “public” figures like political leaders are and to judge both by the same yardstick might not necessarily be the best method. Besides, is this restricted to just blog posts? What about comments on these posts? What about tweets?

Pramit Singh believes that the SC judgment shouldn’t scare bloggers in India —

Some might think the days of free-for-all Orkut groups are over. Others will say they are in fear of treading against people with might – the politicians, big business, virtually anyone with an army of lawyers, who, in this case are trying to put fear of appearing in courts for God knows how many times and thus choosing to ‘write wisely’.

However, I have faith in our Justice system. Bloggers are not going to face a million lawsuits in India.

Dhananjay Nene thinks that the Supreme Court’s judgment isn’t a conclusive blow to bloggers’ rights —

One important aspect which is perhaps easy to lose sight of in this debate is that the Supreme Court did not weigh in on the guilt or lack of it in this case, but on the fact that the person could not shy away from the responsibility to face the charges in a court.

Lawyer Praveen Dalal also says that we should not read too much in the Supreme Court’s judgment —

With the Constitutional Protections on the side of Bloggers there must be very strong reasons to book a person for Defamation or disturbing Religious Harmony. The case is before the lower court that is also a fact finding authority. It is only after the lower court comes to a conclusion that we can proceed either to convict or acquit the accused Blogger. The Supreme Court of India did not found reasons to “Quash” the criminal proceeding against the accused and in the absence of the complete facts of the case as well as the copy of the judgment, it is very difficult to judge the correctness or incorrectness of the same. However, in all probability the accused would be either acquitted or released after admonition.

In an email reproduced in Vijay Mohanty‘s post, senior blogger-journalist Prem Panicker also thinks that the Supreme Court verdict is no big deal —

The SC only said that it cannot, suo moto, quash a criminal prosecution.

It did not say the case is well-founded — that is for the court to decide on the basis of existing law.

Conclusion: The Limits to Freedom of Expression in an Intolerant India

As for me, I see the Ajith D case as part of a larger trend, which operates at many levels.

At the very least, we should see this case as part of Mumbai and Pune police’s crusade against inflammatory Orkut communities. Sixteen Orkut users have been arrested in the last two years on charges of criminal intimidation and hurting religious sentiments, and one of them spent 50 days in police custody based on a mistake in identifying an IP address! It’s a serious crusade that will only become more intense in the foreseeable future and it raises several important questions.

To begin with, do we really want to defend a blogger, or a community owner, or a commentator, who has posted death threats against a common citizen or a public figure, or allowed these comments to be posted and then refused to remove them?

Going beyond that, should the Indian legal system apply the same standards for defamation for a common citizen and a public figure, especially a public figure as controversial as Bal Thackeray?

How can we allow a political party like Shiv Sena, which has set unprecedented standards in inflammatory religious speech (and violent action to back it up), to complain about blog posts or community comments hurting religious sentiments?

And, finally, given Google’s willingness to short-circuit the Indian legal system and share Orkut and GMail personal data with Mumbai and Pune police, how comfortable should we feel in building our entire online presence on Google’s services?

At another level, we should see this case as part of a trend, in India and in democratic countries internationally, where traditional institutions are fighting back against the internet and trying to limit its freedoms.
Barkha Dutt and NDTV threatening to sue blogger Chetan Kunte for defamation is a part of this trend. Shri Ram Sena beating up women in a Mangalore pub and then threatening to sue the organizers of the Pink Chaddi Campaign is a part of this trend. US senators refusing to believe that child predators aren’t a big threat on the internet is part of this trend. US, UK, Australian and Indian governments introducing tough censorship and cyber crime laws are also a part of this trend.

All these actions, individually and collectively, curtail our personal and public freedoms and also our ability to fight for these freedoms. By threatening to sue a blogger, rightly or wrongly, NDTV has curtailed Indian media’s ability to question violations of freedom of speech in India. Similarly, by closing down the internet in their own countries, US, UK, Australia and India have curtailed their ability to question violations of freedom of speech in Iran or China.

So, what happens in the case of Ajith D is important in itself, but it is also important as part of what’s happening with the internet itself. It’s critical that we force ourselves to open our eyes and see the bigger picture before it’s too late.

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

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Feb 25 2009

Three Lessons Activists and Marketers Can Learn From India’s Valentine’s Day Pink Panty Campaign

by at 3:57 pm

Introduction: The Pink Chaddi Campaign as a case study of online citizen activism in India.

Last week, I wrote a longish roundup of the discussions in Indian mainstream and participatory media around the controversial Pink Chaddi Campaign.

The Pink Chaddi Campaign

Briefly, journalist Nisha Susan set up The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women on Facebook and urged women to gift pink panties to Pramod Mutalik, the head of the ultra-conservative Hindu group Shri Ram Sena, in order to shame him into backing down from his threats to disrupt Valentine’s Day celebrations.

The campaign has become one of the best Indian examples of how a grassroots community can come together, collaborate and take collective action using social media tools.

I have written before that managing collaboration in an online community is a cloud problem (irregular and unpredictable) rather than a clock problem.

We know the boundary conditions which are necessary for a vibrant community, but we also know that these conditions are not sufficient. So, most social media “initiatives” are trial and error affairs. Most websites fail to become vibrant communities. Most communities fail to collaborate towards a shared objective. Most collaboration fails to produce collective action. Most collective action fails to achieve the desired results.

So, instead of a how-to checklist, we have case studies of one-off success stories. But these one-off success stories are important because they help us get a sense of the boundary conditions which are necessary for effective collaboration and collective action in online communities.

In this post, I’ll outline three lessons that activists and marketers can learn from the Pink Chaddi Campaign.

Lesson 1: Build your campaign around the zeitgeist, or the social, cultural and political ethos of your identified target group. Then, give it a humorous or irreverent tweak to help it stick.

The Pink Chaddi Campaign tapped into the nationwide outrage against Shri Ram Sena after its activists beat up a group of young women in a Mangalore pub, claiming that the women were violating traditional Indian values by wearing Western clothes and drinking alcohol with men (Wikipedia).

It’s important to note, however, that this outrage was mostly limited to a small but increasingly vocal section of Indian society: young men and women in urban India, who are isolated from the harsh realities of the rest of India by a lucky combination of family background, education, and work.

We come from liberal families (or have broken away from family ties), speak English as our first language, often work in the new economy sectors of media, entertainment and technology, and spend our free time socializing with friends and strangers on online communities and in neighborhood shopping malls. We believe in personal freedom and even libertarianism but don’t really consider ourselves particularly Westernized (because all our friends are like us).

We know that our parents, or at least some of our friends’ parents, don’t really understand the appeal of hanging out in cafes and pubs. We also know that they actively dislike the idea of dating, premarital sex and love marriages, especially if it involves their daughter.

We know that even the most liberal Indian politicians are closet conservatives, and many Indian politicians are illiterate goons. Sometimes, we read stories of women being raped, burned or killed in villages because they had an affair with someone from another caste and feel ashamed of our country.

But we close our eyes and tell ourselves that the shining emergent India we know is not the same as the dark shameful India of illiterates, bigots and goons. Then, Mumbai happens, or Mangalore happens, and the world as we know it, with its clearcut boundaries between us and them, collapses around us.

With its unconventional choice of name, The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women on Facebook self-consciously appealed to this strong sense of us versus them. It reached out to the small minority of men and women in India who are amused by the irony of a woman being called ‘Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward’ in the same sentence. It also self-consciously distanced itself from the Indian mainstream which still wants its Bollywood heroines to be virginal and associates ‘Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women’ with the Bollywood vamps of yesteryears.

The choice of sending pink panties to Shri Ram Sena further reinforced this self-consciously ironical positioning. Chaddi means ‘underwear’ in several Indian languages, but combined with the choice of colour — pink — it essentially means pink panties.

When asked why she had chosen the pink panty as the focal point of her protest, Nisha Susan couldn’t come up with a clear answer. Sometimes, she said that it was a reference to the khaki-shorts-wearing RSS cadres who are often derisively called “chaddi wallahs” (underwear wearers). Sometimes, she said that she chose pink because it is a frivolous colour. Sometimes, she chose to highlight the feminism of pink against the machismo of saffron, the Sangh Parivar’s colour of choice. She also mentioned that the gift of pink panties was a gift of love, in the Valentine’s Day tradition, meant to shame Shri Ram Sena into backing down from its threats to disrupt Valentine’s day celebrations. Some participants in the campaign even suggested that the act of sending pink panties was an assertion that Indian women are ready to put aside their sense of shame and fight for their rights.

I think all these interpretations are correct, but, at the core of the campaign was the idea of inverting the sense of shame. The Shri Ram Sena wanted to shame Indian women into submission. The gift of pink panties didn’t only serve as an ironical act of defiance (“we won’t be shamed”) but also struck at their own sense of maleness (“you should be ashamed”). That’s why gifting pink panties was a better symbol than gifting bangles, which symbolizes “you should be ashamed”, but not “we won’t be shamed”.

Consciously or unconsciously, Nisha Susan had designed the perfect viral campaign. The pink chaddi campaign was not only relevant for its target audience, it was also funny and irreverent. An ironical inside joke is often the perfect viral hook, just ask the hipsters.

Lesson 2: Build virality into your campaign. Choose a compelling message that users want to share. Then, use a platform that makes it easy for them to share the message.

In the last section, I have explained why gifting pink panties on the Valentine’s Day was the perfect symbol for the protest against Shri Ram Sena. But a great viral idea,in itself, isn’t enough. It also needs to be packaged into a compelling and easy to share message. That’s where the brilliantly designed Pink Chaddi Campaign Poster comes in.

Nisha had first designed the poster herself by photoshopping an image of an RSS chaddiwala —

The Original Pink Chaddi Poster

However, she realized that she didn’t want to specifically target the RSS and asked her designer friend to redesign the poster. The rest, as they say, is history.

I would argue that it was the poster that helped the Pink Chaddi campaign go viral, in India and internationally. It was simple both in its design and its symbolism. Take a retro Hindu calendar with an Om, replace the Om with a pink panty, add some retro fonts and you have the perfect poster that triggers Bollywood, Hindutva, and irrevenece at the same time. More than three-fourths of the posts that linked to the Pink Chaddi Campaign blog also displayed the poster.

The choice of Facebook, instead of Orkut, as the social networking platform was also symbolic of the self-conscious us versus them positioning. Almost two third of active internet users in India use Orkut, whereas Facebook is primarily used by a more metro-centered elite crowd, who are often introduced to it by friends in US universities. For highest reach, the campaign should have been present on both Orkut and Facebook (like its rival The Pink Condom Campaign), but it strengthened its us versus them positioning by exclusively focusing on Facebook.

Facebook is also the perfect viral platform, with its hyperactive news feed. Every time an user joined The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women on Facebook, an announcement showed up in the news feeds of all their friends. Members could also actively invite their friends to join the group, and given that I got half a dozen invites myself, many members did use the invite feature.

The campaign also asked group members to share pictures of themselves with the pink panties they were gifting, and many did, both on the Facebook group and on their own blogs. This was an explicit viral element that also helped the campaign gain traction.

Assuming that the average group member has 200 friends (a conservative number), up to 10 million facebook users were exposed to the campaign. Even if we factor in a high degree of duplication in the friend lists of members, it will be safe to say that millions of Facebook users saw the campaign in their news feeds.

Lesson 3: Design your campaign to translate online engagement into offline action. Use modularity and granularity to make it easy to take collective action by breaking it down into smaller individual actions that can be taken independently.

The Pink Chaddi campaign was also designed to trigger offline action, gifting pink panties to Shri Ram Sena on Valentine’s Day. Finally, almost 2000 panties were sent to Shri Ram Sena, against a target of 5000.

I think that the campaign was able to drive offline action, because it made the action both modular and granular. It broke down the task of sending 5000 pink panties to Shri Ram Sena into smaller individual tasks and it made the individual tasks really small: send one panty to the Sena.

The address of Sena’s Hubli office was shared prominently on all campaign messaging and supporters were encouraged to directly mail panties to the address. Alternatively, panties could also be dropped at designated collection centers, but the collection centers were quickly overwhelmed with the demands put on them.

Compare this to the difficulties of organizing a protest march at a specific time and place, a traditional model of protest that doesn’t benefit from the possibility of organizing collective online actions that consist of aggregated modular and granular individual tasks.

Finally, Nisha Susan displayed great media savvy by holding a series of press conferences to publicize the campaign. Nisha is a journalist herself with Tehelka and realizes that “participatory media is most effective when it is able to push up important stories into the legacy news media.” Media attention is part of the reason why the Indian blogosphere’s protests in the 2005 TOI-Mediaah! and the 2009 NDTV-Kunte cases were limited to online chest-thumping while the 2005 anti-IIPM campaign and now the Pink Chaddi campaign resulted in successful offline action.

The three elements aren’t unique to the Pink Chaddi Campaign. For instance, the same three elements also led to the success of President Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign. The campaign tapped into the US citizens’ frustration with the Bush administration and their desire for real change. The campaign did a great job of creating a compelling message around the theme of change and Obama’s African American background itself acted as the viral tweak. The campaign also created MyBarackObama as a community for its supporters and enabled them to collaborate with each other to bring their shared vision to life. Finally, the campaign developed tools that made clever use of modulaity and granularity to agrregate small individual actions like giving a small donation, writing a blog post, organizing a local event, or making get-out-the-vote calls, into a well-coordinated campaign.

Conclusion: Questions in the aftermath of the Pink Chaddi Campaign.

There are many unanswered question at the end of the Pink Chaddi Campaign.

The first question is: was the campaign really successful?

The answer is the universally unsatisfactory “it depends”. The campaign was undoubtedly successful in terms of creating reach and engagement but it’s not sure if it brought about any real change.

Let’s talk about reach first. More than 50000 users joined the campaign group on Facebook. More than 300 blogs linked to the campaign blog. More than 150 news stories mentioned the campaign. These are unusually high numbers for a grassroots online campaign in India. At the same time, the media attention also helped Shri Ram Sena and brought its leader Pramod Mutalik into national limelight (Zubin Driver at IBN Live and D P Satish at IBNLive).

In terms of engagement, the campaign generated interest amongst both men and women both in India and internationally. It also started a serious debate in both mainstream and participatory media over who gets to define Indian culture. At the same time, we must remember that the debate was limited to a small minority of Indian elites. I don’t think that the campaign changed the views of the Indian mainstream and it might even have alienated them — and I’m talking about the educated, urban Indian mainstream here, not villagers in Eastern Uttar Pradesh (Sagarika Ghose at The Hindustan Times and Swapan Dasgupta at TOI).

Finally, in terms of impact, the campaign did mobilize significant offline action. Getting Indian women to send 2000 pink panties to Shri Ram Sena is no small achievement. The public debate around the campaign also forced Shri Ram Sena to back down on its threats of disrupting Valentine’s day celebrations. However, as many observers have pointed out, the campaign didn’t really change anything. Public opinion on Shri Ram Sena is still divided in India and most of its leaders are unlikely to be punished by law.

The second question is: what happens now that Valentine’s Day is over?

We have seen before that successful online citizen activism movements that are organized around an event often fail to keep the momentum going once the event is over. I have written before about Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement Facebook Group which floundered after its original purpose was served.

Nisha Susan is trying to maintain the momentum of the group by asking them to stake a claim for our shared culture by creating one minute videos about what Indian culture means to each one of us. It looks like a plan the might work, but only time will tell.

Cross-posted on my personal blog.

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Feb 19 2009

The Valentines Day Pink Chaddi Campaign: Indian Pubgoing Women Vs. Shri Ram Sena

by at 1:11 am

The Pink Chaddi Campaign — organized on Valentines Day by The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women to protest against the right wing Hindu group Shri Ram Sena — has become one of the best Indian examples of how a grassroots community can come together, collaborate and take collective action using social media tools.

It all started on January 24th when a group of 40 activists of the Shri Ram Sena (also spelled as Sri Ram Sena, Shri Rama Sena, Sri Rama Sena, Sri Ram Sene, Shri Ram Sene and Sriram Sena) barged into a Mangalore pub and beat up a group of young women and men, claiming that the women were violating traditional Indian values by wearing Western clothes and drinking alcohol with men (Wikipedia). The video of the incident was repeatedly shown on Indian TV channels and widely shared online and became the focal point of a nationwide outrage against the incident (Global Voices) —

However, the incident evoked mixed reactions. Even as most people denounced the incident, and some even called it the “Talibanisation of India” and “Hindu Talibanism”, many prominent politicians suggested that condemning the incident isn’t the same as condoning “pub culture” and “the Westernization of Indian youth”. Some politicians, and even the National Commission for Women, condemned “the loosening of moral standards amongst young women” and called for controls on pub licenses and alcohol consumption in public (NYT, Reuters 1, Reuters 2, India Today).

Shri Ram Sena chief Pramod Mutalik was unrepentant and vowed, on May 4th, to disrupt Valentine’s Day celebrations in Karnataka, calling it an “international Christian conspiracy against Indian culture”. He also threatened to force unmarried couples found together on Valentine’s Day to get married unless they agreed to tie rakhis on their wrists signifying that they are brother and sister (IBNLive, India Today and The Telegraph). Another Sangh Parivar member Bajrang Dal also threatened similar actions (Indian Express). These Valentine’s Day disruptions, often led by Hindu nationalist parties like Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), have become common in India over the last decade (BBC).

One organization responded to these threats by calling for pepper-spray squads to protect couples on Valentine’s Day while another organization promised to deploy teams of taekwando experts to blacken the faces of miscreants with shoe polish (Times Online).

Nisha Susan, a journalist, set up The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose, and Forward Women on Facebook and mobilized the protests around the Pink Chaddi Campaign (chaddi is a Hindi word for underwear) —

The Pink Chaddi Campaign

The Pink Chaddi Campaign kicked off on February 5th with the objective of sending 5000 pink underwears to Shri Ram Sena in order to shame them. Using Facebook and feminist blogs, Nisha urged women to mail new or old pink underwear to Pramod Muthalik, or drop them at collection points. She also urged group members to share pictures of the pink underwear they were giving, in order to inspire other women. The group decided to use “chaddi” as the focal point because the khaki-shorts-wearing RSS cadres are often derisively called “chaddi wallahs” (chaddi wearers).

Soon, other Indian and international blogs picked up the story. More than 270 blogs have linked to the campaign blog as per Technorati and the “Pink Chaddi” search feed on Twitter is still active. The Facebook group has also been a runaway success. As of now, it has more than 48,000 members and a vibrant community with more than 350 discussion topics and more than 6750 wall posts.

The campaign also supported the Pub Bharo (fill the pubs) campaign proposed by the Minister of State for Women and Child Development, Renuka Choudhury, which encouraged women to visit a pub on Valentine’s Day to show support for the victims of the Mangalore pub violence (TOI and Mid-Day). The Facebook group run by her daughter Tejaswini Choudhury has 4200 members as of now.

Another Facebook group that wants to celebrate March 1st as World Kamastutra Day has 2300 members.

Yet another Facebook group that wants to “Send Pramod Muthalik a Valentine’s Day Card” has 1300 members (TOI).

There is also a Hug Karo campaign asking people to hug each other on Valentine’s Day (see DesiCritics), that is similar to the global Free Hugs campaign.

A group of “ordinary Hindus, who don’t bark on television channels to defend our faith, but definitely get hurt when some people bark against our faith”, started The Pink Condom Campaign to protest against the “sickular Pink Chaddi walas” (Indian Express and DNA). The group behind the campaign — “The Self-respecting Hindus’ Initiative for Equality and Liberty with Dignity” or SHIELD — has been less successful, with only 160 supporters on Facebook and 111 supporters on Orkut so far.

The Pink Condom Campaign

Priyanka Narain at LiveMint has a great roundup of all the pro-Valentine’s Day protests organized on social networking sites.

The Pink Chaddi campaign has resulted in serious embarrassment for the right wing Sangh Parivar, in general, and Pramod Mutalik, in particular. More than 2000 chaddis were sent to him and digs were taken at his single status (TOI and The Guardian).

Even Indian FMCG brand Amul joined in the protests with a characteristic billboard (see CSR Asia for a background on Amul’s socially conscious billboard campaigns) —

Amul Pink Chaddi Campaign

However, Pramod Mutalik responded by calling the Pink Chaddi campaign a “a base tactic to shy away from the core issue of Indian culture” (TOI). He also promised to give pink saris to the women gifting him pink underwear (TOI), with the help of a related women’s organization Durga Sena (TOI). In the end, fearing public backlash, the Shri Ram Sena called off the Valentine’s Day disruptions (TOI and India Today).

The campaign has attracted mixed reactions from the Indian blogosphere, with many observers praising its creativity and virality and others criticizing its frivolity and calling it undignified.

In a poll at Desipundit, 77% of the 459 respondents thought that the campaign was “clever and creative” while only 23% thought that it was a “waste of time”.

Snighdha Sen at BlogHer says that the campaign embodies the spirit of Gandhigiri, a contemporary reading of the tenets of Gandhism popularized by the the 2006 Hindi film, Lage Raho Munna Bhai.

Roshan Krishnan at Desicritics feels that the campaign is an indicator that “civil society is finally asserting itself in India”.

Samhita at Feministing asks us to “resist the urge to suggest that given the cultural climate of India these women shouldn’t have been in a bar.”

Poonam points out that this is not the first time panties have been used as a symbolic protest. In late 2007, Lanna Action for Burma group had launched a Panties for Peace campaign and urged women around the world to “post, deliver or fling your panties at the closest Burmese Embassy” to protest against the repressive junta leader General Than Shwe (The Register).

Anindita Sengupta at Ultraviolet thinks that the Pink Chaddi campaign is about shaming the right-wing conservatives.

Amit Varma at the India Uncut argues that the issue is not whether a lifestyle is right or wrong, but “the right to choose our own lifestyle, any lifestyle”.

The right-leaning blogger Offstumped is apparently offended by the references to “Hindu Taliban” and exhorts the women behind the Pink Chaddi campaign to send pink burqas to Al-Qaeda’s Mustafa Abu Al-Yazid instead.

Sakshi argues that the Pink Chaddi campaign doesn’t address any real issue about why Shri Ram Sena’s ultra-conservative stand resonates with most Indians.

The “GreatBong” Arnab writes a twisted Valentine’s Day morality tale, which seems to rubbish both parties.

The Pink Chaddi campaign has also resulted in several videos for and against it. Ruchika Muchhala at Global Voices points to some of these.

Here is a video showing the pile of pink underwear before they were sent to Pramod Mutalik —

Here is a video of Nisha Susan talking to Mid Day about the campaign —

Here’s a series of animated videos (1, 2) on the Pink Chaddi campaign —

Here’s a ridiculous right-wing video that tries to counter the Pink Chaddie campaign —

The campaign has also attracted the attention of mainstream news organizations, including international majors like NYT, BBC, Fox News, The Guardian, ABC, Times Online, LA Times, MSNBC and NPR.

The opinion in Indian mainstream media, however, is equally divided.

Dan Collins at LAist says that the Pink Chaddi movement is both inspiring and oddly exhilarating (also see the cute picture of the Pink Chaddi Payphone).

Kate Allen at The New Statesman is pleasantly surprised that the campaign is supported by both men and women, unlike “Britain and Europe (where) violence against women is generally seen as a ‘women’s issue’”.

Pradeep Nair at TOI compares the campaign to the feminist bra burning of the late 1960s and sees it as “a turning point for blogs and social networking sites” in India.

Anoothi Vishal at Business Standard sees the Pink Chaddi campaign as part of a larger trend where a handful of Indians are acting as catalysts, often with the help of new media, to bring about political and social change.

Neha Tara Mehta at India Today locates the Pink Chaddi campaign as part of a growing trend of online citizen activism in India.

Udaalak Mukerjee at The Telegraph says that he admires the women behind the Pink Chaddi campaign, because “at a time when we are busy building barriers to screen ourselves from disturbing actualities, they have managed to break a few in order to meet the enemy in the eye.”

Tavleen Singh at Indian Express says that the campaign should have sent pink chaddis to BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Lal Krishna Advani who has endorsed the Shri Ram Sena’s excesses by his silence.

Sagarika Ghose at The Hindustan Times calls the campaign undignified and warns against the elitism amongst the Westernized urban Indian youth who are choosing “lifestyles that are desi imitations of Sex And The City”.

Zubin Driver at IBN Live has a great post on how Pramod Mutalik has benefited from the media attention on the Pink Chaddi campaign. D P Satish at IBNLive also has an interesting post on how the media attention has made Mutalik’s political career.

Swapan Dasgupta at TOI argues that the Pink Chaddi campaign “is likely to reinforce Middle India’s existing prejudices and bolster the stereotype of un-Indian fast and loose women.”

Devangshu Datta in Business Standard, Jai Arjun Singh in Business Standard and Jug Suraiya in TOI choose to write about the campaign in a humorous (read: flippant) vein.

Now that Valentine’s Day is over, there are questions about what will happen to the Facebook group (TOI).

Nisha Susan doesn’t talk about the future in her reflective post at The Guardian looking back at the campaign, but on the Pink Chaddi Campaign blog, she suggests that their achievement lies in “staking a claim for our shared culture” —

So here is the idea. We each make a little video of ourselves. We make a video of ourselves doing something we love, something we think is definitely a part of Indian culture (and let no one dare disagree!). Speak into the camera. Say “This is Indian culture.” Imagine the possibilities, you, your best friend, your grandmother, your 7-year-old nephew, your grumpy boss… each doing what you think is part of you, part of Indian culture.

This promises to be fun!

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Culture,Gaurav Mishra,India,Social Change,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Feb 18 2009

Comscore Report on Social Networking Sites in India

by at 1:27 pm

According to a Comscore report on social networking sites in India, visits to the site category increased 51 percent from the previous year to more than 19 million visitors in December 2008.

Orkut is still a strong #1 with 12.8 million visitors and a 81% growth over December 2007. Facebook is far behind with 4.0 million visitors, in spite of its impressive 150% growth. BharatStudent is a surprising #3 with 3.3 million visitors and a 88% growth.

Other international social networking sites Hi5, MySpace and LinkedIn also did well at #4, #6 and #7 with 2.0 million, 0.7 million and 0.5 million visitors and growths of 182%, 110% and 71% respectively.

The Indian social networking websites Ibibo and BigAdda, however, didn’t do well and fell down by 50% and 25% to 1.0 million and 0.4 million visitors respectively.

I’ll look at the Comscore data with suspicion because it excludes traffic from cyber cafes, an important venue for internet access in India.

Still, the data is mostly consistent with my analysis of search trends for social networking sites in India, with the exception of BharatStudent’s surprise #3 position. I knew that both Ibibo and BigAdda were struggling, in spite of refocusing on entertainment, but I thought BigAdda was struggling more. Part of the reason may be that Comscore has only released one month’s data but the traffic for Ibibo and BigAdda fluctuates based on their ad campaigns.

I expect the trend of international social networking websites gaining ground from Indian social networking websites to continue, because most Indian players in the space are mere me-too clones. As I said in my social media predictions for 2009, several Indian social networking websites will shut down in 2009, unless they reposition themselves as niche player.

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

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Feb 04 2009

Studying India

by at 11:52 am

What follows is a high level look at the key metrics that define India’s political economy, and importantly, how they might influence social media usage.

India

Government: Of the BRIC countries, India has the longest, and most established secular democracy. Some argue, however, that it is this democracy that has slowed development, and kept India much behind regional rival, China. Supporters point out, however, that all decisions in India are reached at by consensus, so there is no risk of political implosion in the face of political or economic shocks. The year of 2007 was a true test to the strength of the parliamentary system in India. The United Progressive Alliance coalition government, led by the Indian National Congress party faced its most severe test in elevating India to the status of a global power by committing to the U.S. – India Civil Nuclear deal. Additionally, the central government had to deal with rapidly rising inflation, rising food and energy prices, and the ever present threat of terrorism – all critical ballot box issues. Federal elections are set for the summer of 2009.

International Affairs: India is perhaps most known for its historically contentious relationship with Pakistan, particularly over the disputed region of Kashmir. However, India is beginning to exert itself in international economic and political fora; India is one of the largest providers of troops to U.N. peacekeeping operations, and one of the largest contributors of aid to reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, among other engagements. Not all of India’s foreign policy engagements are purely altruistic. India also recognizes its need for energy, and like China, it maintains relationships with countries such as Myanmar and Iran.

Demographics: Throughout the twentieth century and twenty first centuries, India has been in a demographic transition. It is the second most populated nation in the world with 1.1 billion, behind China, and is expected to overtake their neighbor by 2050. The latest census data indicates that 72.2% of the population lives in about 638,000 villages and the remaining 27.8% lives in over 5,100 towns and over 380 urban agglomerations. Almost 40% of Indians are younger than 15 years of age. While a majority of Indians belong to the Hindu faith (80%), it has the third largest population of Muslims (13%), as well as a majority of Sikhs and Jains. The secular state also is a home to many Christians, Jews, and Buddhists.

Linguistically, there are roughly 1,652 languages spoken in India, with English, Hindi, Bangla, Tamil, Marathi, Telugu, Urdu, and Punjabi amongst the most popularly spoken.

Telecom: As of July 2008, there were 338 million working telephone lines in India. Of these, 296 million are cellular phones, while about 40 million are dedicated land lines.

Internet: Overall internet-using population in urban India has reached 30.32 million. At least 3 of 4 regular internet users (77%) who access the net from home now do so using some form of a broadband or superior connection, and at least 74% of office-based usage is also on broadband or superior connections.

Social Media Usage: It is no surprise that Indians are active on the social networking sites. With the emergence of online marriage portals such as Shaadi.com, and Indian social networking sites such as Yaari, India is a fast growing market for social media. The following are some data points to keep in mind:

  • 56% of internet users undertake social or professional networking.
  • Social networking forms the larger part of the pie with 29% of net users.
  • Blogging remains a tertiary phenomenon, with only about 31% of all internet users somehow involved in blogs.
  • Though 27% of all online Indians read or check blogs, 15% of them comment on blogs and only 7% of them have a blog of their own; that is, in effect, 89% of all net users who are involved with blogs merely read them.

* source: India Online 2007, Juxt Consult

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Nov 13 2008

Nokia Research on Mobile Phone Usage at the Bottom of the Pyramid (Part 2)

by at 1:42 pm

In my previous post on Nokia’s research on mobile phone use at the bottom of the pyramid, I talked about the practice of sharing mobile phones and the challenges in designing a user interface for illiterate mobile phone users.

In this post, I’ll talk about the informal service infrastructure that supports mobile phone use at the bottom of the pyramid.

Here, Jan Chipchase documents informal repair cultures in the developing world and asks —

What can we learn from informal repair cultures? Aside from the benefits, what are the risks for consumers and for companies whose products are repaired, refurbished and resold? Given the benefit to (bottom of the pyramid) consumers are there elements of the repair ecosystem that can be exported to other cultures? Can the same skills be applied to other parts of the value chain? And, given the range of resources and skills available what would it take to turn cultures of repair into cultures of innovation?

Here, Jan Chipchase and Duncan Burns explore street hacks for mobile phones (an update of the informal repair culture presentation) —

Here, Stuart Henshall (not from Nokia) shares his experience in buying a ‘China phone’ at Mumbai’s Manish Market.

The cost of a repaired/ refurbished phone in the gray/ black market is often less than a third of the original handset. The informal repair culture is often convenient, efficient, fast and cheap, especially for poor customers who often don’t have warranty. Together, they reduces both the initial cost of acquisition and the total cost of ownership and increase the lifetime of products, making them accessible to bottom of the pyramid customers. Not only that, these vendors often offer value add services like unlocking phones, installing pirated software, and uploading songs, extending the use cases of these low cost phones.

Here, Jan Chipchase and Indri Tulusan talk about street battery charging services in Uganda that enable residents without regular access to mains power to keep their mobile phone’s charged. It’s another example of how electricity is the bottleneck for mobile use in emerging Asia and Africa.

Finally, Jan Chipchase, Indri Tulusan and Lokesh Bitra deep dive into the practice of community address books maintained by phone kiosk owner to record the phone numbers used by their customers, a study that links back to their research on shared phone use.

In another post, I’ll talk about how all this fits into Homegrown (slides), Nokia’s umbrella project that includes Nokia Remade (phones made from recycled material), Zero Waste, People First, Everyone Connected, and, perhaps, even the Five Dollar Comparison (slides).

In yet another post, I’ll write about the importance of Nokia Life Tools, Nokia’s collaboration with Reuters Market Light and Idea Cellular to bring critical information to rural phone users in India (see Ken Banks, Ashish Sinha and Kiruba Shankar).

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Nov 13 2008

Nokia Research on Mobile Phone Usage at the Bottom of the Pyramid (Part 1)

by at 1:40 pm

In my last post, I wrote about the Nokia Open Studio design competition in slums in Mumbai, Rio De Janeiro and Accra.

Over the weekend, I have been going through research conducted by Nokia’s Jan Chipchase, Younghee Jung, Raphael Grignani and others and here’s a selection of their most interesting research on mobile phone usage at the bottom of the pyramid (more research to follow in another post).

Jan Chipchase on mobile phone usage amongst illiterate users at LIFT 2007 conference

Jan Chipchase and Indru Tulusan on shared mobile phone usage

– 3.3 billion people out of 6.5 billion people in the world have mobile phones. Another 1 billion people will have mobile phones within two years. Most of them will be from emerging Asia and Africa and will have limited literacy. In fact, out of the 774 million illiterate adults in the world, 270 million are in India (UNESCO Institute for Statistics)!

– Three types of literacies are relevant for mobile phone usage — textual literacy, numerical or arithmetic literacy and ‘proximate literacy’, the ability to rely on others who are either literate or at least sufficiently competent in using the device.

– Illiterate users rely on a variety of cues to navigate the world of text and numbers, including inferring meaning from shape, size, texture and scent and delegating tasks to others.

– Textually non-literate users can complete tasks requiring a degree of textual literacy, but these tasks typically take considerably longer to complete. Therefore, they tend to rely on rote learning and revert to the same default choices repeatedly.

– Non-literate mobile phone users typically know how to turn on the phone, receive calls and make local calls, but often struggle with features that require text editing, such as making long distance calls (by using prefixes), creating a contact, saving a text message, and creating a text message.

– Information relayed to non-literate users as part of a phone call is often partially conveyed or remembered because of their inability to write it down. Most users rely on paper based address books maintained by literate family members or acquaintances. Often, when phone calls are made using public phones, the operator maintains the phone book and even dials the number for the non-literate user.

– A non-literate user’s willingness to explore features on a mobile phone through trial and error is often limited because of the high perceived risk of factors such as: changing settings so that things no longer work; past experiences of things going wrong; deleting data that cannot be recovered; becoming lost and not being able to retrace steps; or physically breaking the phone.

– The challenge in designing mobile interfaces for illiterate users is to add context to the text. An icon-driven, voice-enabled or physical-digital hybrid interface may be part of the solution but its design is a non-trivial problem and its use may often be non-intuitive.

– Bringing personal, convenient, synchronous and asynchronous communication within the reach of textually non-literate users will require design innovations at three levels: on the phone; in the communications eco-system; and on the carrier network.

– For many new mobile phone users, the first mobile experience is either on a shared or a public phone. Sharing compromises the personal, convenient and synchronous nature of mobile communication and is driven by cost of ownership, not by preference. Therefore, sharing is a transition state that would eventually lead to full ownership. However, other factors like portable device identity — where a person can access all their personal ‘stuff’ regardless of whose device they are using — may increase shared use over time.

– Shared mobile use practices include — Sente human ATMs, mediated communication, missed calls, shared pre-paid airtime, community address books, and step messaging (delivering a messages via shared mobile phone or kiosk where the message is delivered the last mile on foot).

– Sente is the informal practices of sending and receiving money through public phone kiosks. The sender buys a pre-paid top up card, calls up a phone kiosk operator near the receiver, who uses the credit to top up his own phone and passes the money to the receiver after taking a 10%-30% commission. This is the precursor to formal mobile banking services offered by mobile phone operators.

– Often, feature-rich premium devices are used by very poor users. Such sideways adoption may be driven by the perception of mobile phones as status symbols and the availability of used and remodeled mobile phones. However, phone ownership is not the same as use. If there are cheaper ways to communicate these will be used.

– In an increasingly transitory world, the cellphone is becoming the one fixed piece of our identity, especially for the poorest members of society. Having a call-back number is having a fixed identity point, which, inside of populations that are constantly on the move — displaced by war, floods, drought or faltering economies — can be immensely valuable both as a means of keeping in touch with home communities and as a business tool. The phone-number-as-identity effect is likely to increase as mobile phones become established at providing banking and other core services.

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